“Tatarstan has always tried to choose those areas of digitalisation that will have the greatest effect”

“Tatarstan has always tried to choose those areas of digitalisation that will have the greatest effect” Photo: Rinat Nazmetdinov

Last year, Tatarstan became first among Russian regions in digitalisation index giving way to just Moscow. Realnoe Vremya found out what helped the republic to hold the lead in Skolkovo’s research, its key growth points and existing problems in this sphere and how they can be solved.

Leaders and lagging regions

Digital Russia index demonstrating the regions’ digitalisation level was created by the Centre for Financial Innovation and Centre for Research in Financial Technologies and Digital Economy Skolkovo Moscow School of Management. It is noted that its methodology considers quantitative indicators and experts’ evaluation based on metadata analysis reflecting Russian regions’ digitalisation processes.

The leaders of the rating describing the situation in 2018 are: Moscow, the Republic of Tatarstan and Saint Petersburg. They are followed by Moscow and Tyumen Oblast, Khanty-Mansi Autonomous Okrug — Yugra, Yamal-Nenets Autonomous Okrug, the Republic of Bashkortostan, Leningrad and Novosibirsk Oblast. The Republic of Tyva, Jewish Autonomous Okrug, Karachay-Cherkessia Republic, the Republic of Ingushetia and the Republic of Kalmykia.

According to head of research of the Centre for Financial Innovation and Centre for Research in Financial Technologies and Digital Economy Skolkovo-HES Yegor Krivoshey, the general tendency is so that central regions are more often more digitalised, while more remote regions in more complicated geographical conditions and smaller population are less.

Authorities’ standpoint, developed economy and mogul companies

Discussing the reasons why Tatarstan was among the leaders in digitalisation level, the experts surveyed by our newspaper, first of all, single out the regional authorities’ special standpoint. For instance, Yegor Krivoshey indicated that digitalisation of state services and state support of digital initiatives have been one of the priorities of local authorities in the last 5-10 years.

“The success of Tatarstan from a perspective of digital leadership is mainly provided with the activity of regional authorities in this part of the economy, which creates accessible infrastructure and conditions to create digital projects. Innopolis innovation cluster can be one of such examples as well as the Tatarstan citizen card, which was the foundation for quite a big number of digital products,” the representative of the Centre for Financial Innovation and Centre for Research in Financial Technologies and Digital Economy Skolkovo-HES thinks.

Director of development of HART digital agency from Kazan Ilkham Makhyanov has a similar position who singled out several other important factors.

“We can’t help but consider the high level of development of Tatarstan in general, developed economy, considerable allocations to implement national projects from the budget of the Russian Federation, a big number of world-scale that Kazan hosted, which became a great impetus to develop the republic, convenient logistics,” the expert comments.

Also, according to our interlocutor, Tatarstan moguls, mainly oil and gas companies that make significant steps towards digital technologies, invest serious resources to develop and introduce innovations by distributing them and create new standards for the whole industry are powerful engines of the republic’s digital transformation.

Brave men at the helm of digitalisation

Director General of the Centre of Information Technologies Almaz Valiullin outlined three key factors that helped the republic hold the lead. He talks about manageability, courage and the ability to set correct priorities.

“As for manageability, I want to say that I have seen a lot of interesting and good digital solutions that perhaps due to some technical parameters could be better than the solutions used in Tatarstan. But precisely Tatarstan managed to obtain the greatest effect because they were widely introduced in major processes at all levels,” Almaz Valiullin thinks.

Revealing the second factor, our interlocutor noted that digitalisation was often linked with changes, while any change carries risks. Consequently, “reasonable courage and willpower are needed to make a step towards changes”. The expert suggests that people who were and are at the helm of digitalisation in the republic “were courageous enough to initiate these changes and often do this first at a moment of the greatest uncertainty”.

“The third factor is that digitalisation is often connected with big costs, and this is why to get the greatest effect with the current limit of resources Tatarstan has always tried to correctly choose those areas of digitalisation that will have the greatest effect. As it seems to me, right the latter is the toughest quality that the leader has to maintain. With an attempt to provide equal development in all areas, the focus is lost,” the director general of the Centre of Information Technologies.

What scotches digital transformation?

Despite the good situation in the rating, Tatarstan still has certain barriers scotching the region’s digital transformation. The head of research of the Centre for Financial Innovation and Centre for Research in Financial Technologies and Digital Economy Skolkovo-HES consider regulative strictness of some laws (for instance, the absence of systemic regulation in the cryptoindustry) as well as the lack of initiative of many consumers and businesses as one of them.

“Most of the innovations happen in the largest companies or the state, while smaller market players don’t offer high-quality solutions. It is linked with the fear of regulative pressure, the absence of a due level of training in digitalisation among managers and innovators as well as the misunderstanding of modern niches and markets linked with the digital economy. Low awareness of the population about digital products and services and a low level of digital literacy can be another barrier,” Yegor Krivoshey comments.

Director of development of HART digital agency from Kazan Ilkham Makhyanov also claims that the republic lacks digital culture and submersion into it.

“This is especially relevant for state structures and everyone who is anyway linked with the environmental changes around us. I think these people must have a digital way of thinking, the latest approaches, a clear understanding of the present and an adequate vision of the future. Systemic work must be done for this purpose — educational and evangelistic. The story of Sberbank is a good example. Before totally reassembling the fossilised machine, Herman Gref introduced regular lectures, conferences, sessions on digital transformation, excursions to companies in Silicon Valley and so on by gradually changing the company’s top management’s culture and way of thinking,” Realnoe Vremya’s interlocutor thinks.

“Staff training, the education system (from school to higher education) are now the Achilles tendon of the big digital transformation or revolution, if you like, which requires much more attention and reforms,” Makhyanov concludes. Photo: Maksim Platonov

In Yegor Krivoshey’s opinion, these barriers can be removed if one provides a transparent regulative environment for cross-cutting technologies, determine the border of actions for SMEs and entrepreneurs and render integrated support to innovators with educational initiatives and targeted information for interested participants.

“The republic certainly needs a lot of young, ambitious specialists who not only understand what changes are taking place in the world of technologies today well and deeply but also have great skills, practical experience when working with new tools. Staff training, the education system (from school to higher education) are now the Achilles tendon of the big digital transformation or revolution, if you like, which requires much more attention and reforms. And this, first of all, requires reforms of specialised structures, other approaches inside, another way of thinking, other people,” Makhyanov concludes.

By Lina Sarimova